‘Welcome Home’ to New U.S. Citizens at Liberty Hall Naturalization Ceremony
With historic Liberty Hall Museum as a backdrop, 29 new American citizens who live in Union County were sworn in at a recent naturalization ceremony at Kean University.
“Welcome home,” said Tamika S. Gray, the district director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, after administering the Oath of Allegiance to the newly sworn-in citizens, who come from 19 countries.
Those who were sworn in and their families gathered in a large white tent on the grounds of Liberty Hall, the Revolutionary War-era home of New Jersey’s first elected governor and signer of the U.S. Constitution, William Livingston. With the tent decorated with lights, refreshments in the Liberty Hall carriage house, and a string trio softly playing Americana music, the immigrants said they recognized that theirs was no ordinary naturalization ceremony.
“I feel so lucky!” said Melanie Omay of Union who came to the United States from the Philippines eight years ago and was surrounded by an enthusiastic group of family members. “My sister and mom were sworn in as citizens in Newark, and it wasn’t like this.”
Several of the new citizens admitted to getting choked up as they vowed to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the United States. Mary Ngugi of Elizabeth, originally from Kenya, said she was one of them.
“It was very emotional,” she said. “It is something that I have been waiting for. I have been here for more than 10 years. I am proud to be an American now. I am not an outsider now. I am in.”
The Liberty Hall naturalization ceremony is an annual event at Kean, one of the most diverse universities in the nation with many immigrant and first-generation American students. This year, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires and Kean University Board of Trustees Chair Ada Morell '97, both originally from Cuba, and John Kean Sr., the president of Liberty Hall Museum, addressed the candidates for citizenship.
“For more than 240 years, the United States has embraced a tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world,” Morell said. “We must protect that tradition because our diversity is our strength. It gives us a tremendous advantage over other nations.”
Sires shared his story as an immigrant and elected official to demonstrate the promise of the United States.
“My grandmother was 83 years old when she became an American citizen because she wanted to vote for her grandson who was running for mayor,” he said.
Kean, whose family dates back to colonial times in the United States, said citizenship brings responsibilities.
“One of the major responsibilities is the privilege of voting for the candidate of your choice, an opportunity for many that would be impossible in your home country. Use it wisely,” he said.
Seana Marie Mapano of Elizabeth, who also emigrated from the Phillipines, said she was on “cloud nine” throughout the ceremony.
“With all of the messages from the guest speakers, it was overwhelming,” she said. “They embraced us even though we come from other countries.”